Take me out to districts
There’s something new hanging in Columbia’s clubhouse.
Up for all to see is a board listing the Tigers’ goals for the season.
Head coach Heath Phillips just put it up this week, and the timing isn’t a coincidence. Columbia (3-4) opens its district schedule tonight on the road against Vanguard (3-6, 0-2) before coming home Friday night to play the Knights again.
The mantra for district play is pretty simple — the top team in the standings at the end of the season gets the district tournament on their home field.
“We need to host. We need to win these district games,” Phillips said.
The teams in District 3-7A will all play each other twice this season, with one catch — road and home games on back-to-back nights for three straight weeks. Vanguard already went up against Gainesville last week and dropped both meetings by a combined score of 23-0.
In past years, coaches voted before the season to determine the district tournament site. But with home field in their own hands this year, Phillips has been preaching the importance of these games this week.
He points back to last year’s district championship, which the Tigers won on their home field, and credits that atmosphere as a big reason why they held the trophy high at the end.
“When teams come here, it’s an advantage for us,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to play here on a Friday night in a district championship game. Our goal is to get that one-seed and host.”
The back-to-back type of schedule could be a problem for a team without a strong pitching staff but not the Tigers. Their rotation is their strength, posting an ERA of 2.14 so far this year.
“I don’t mind it at all with the starters we have and the bullpen,” Phillips said. “I’m comfortable with it. I kind of like it.”
Nic Tyre will pitch tonight, and Tyler Myrick takes the mound Friday. Both pitched in Columbia’s victories in Georgia last week, with Tyre picking up the win in a complete-game performance against Valdosta last Thursday.
The Tigers are streaking into district play with three straight wins. It’s brought a surge of confidence into the clubhouse after they dropped their first four games to begin the season.
Phillips likes to remind his club that those four losses were against talented teams and will ultimately make them better down the road.
That message is simple to deliver, but sometimes it’s difficult to digest when you’re losing.
But Columbia has bought in.
“You always worry about if we’re going to take the other route instead of stepping up,” Phillips said. “This is my third year with this group and I know them pretty well and they don’t like losing. Last year we started out winning and then we went on that big skid in the middle of the year and they didn’t like that very much. We had a good run at the end, and this year, we’re focused on picking that up in the middle of the season and keeping it until playoff games.”
The Tigers dropped their first four games by a combined score of 20-6 but have since flipped the script. During their three-game win streak, the Tigers have outscored opponents 20-2, and that could continue against a Vanguard pitching staff whose ERA is 4.64 through nine games.
“We’re playing a lot better baseball than when we started,” Phillips said. “We got on them a little bit as far as how we’re practicing. We’re putting more focus on the little details that we needed to do and they’ve bought in to it and it seems to be working right now.”